When the classic fairy tales were being written, “happily ever after” didn’t usually include mutual consent. In fact, a lot of stories actually encourage sexual assault. I didn’t realize it as a kid, and it didn’t register immediately when I started reading these stories as a mom, either. But thanks the wake-up call our culture is finally experiencing, how could I not notice how much violence against women exist in time-honored tales?
Though I don’t think we need to do away with fairy tales, I do think we need to scrutinize their messaging and use them not only to entertain kids, but as examples of old-school patriarchal thinking. I can’t protect my kids from the evil morals embedded in some of these stories by never reading them, but I can contextualize the books for them. I know someone who is refusing to show her kids certain PG-rated sci-fi action films, and, instead, is committed to making sure they see films with positive messaging about women, bodies, and sexuality. I think there is room for both, though. I believe I can show my kids Star Wars (violent!) and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (queerness positivity!). It doesn’t have to be one or the other because, eventually, my kids will see it all and I’d rather I be the one who takes them through it.
So even though the following stories unquestionably encourage sexual assault, I don’t think they should be banned. They should be read with an eye towards why they are morally bankrupt, and why women suffer if we keep believing these fairy tales to be aspirational.